Innovation in Customer Engagement Technology

CET Triangle

The customer whom is engaged in the retail experience is charmed by the story unfolding, enraptured by the spectacle and ultimately persuaded to make in store purchases by well-placed cues, triggers and props. Retailers use a variety of technological levers to assist them in this pursuit – to get the customer touching, listening, looking and learning for themselves about the products in store. But many companies fail to choose the best tools for getting the job done right first time. Graeme Laws puts forward the case that technology alone is not a panacea for success but is part of an ongoing journey of experimentation. It requires co-creation, with the customer fully participating, in order to deliver sustainable commercial benefits.

Retail theatre requires a decent script to accompany the props and set

The idea of CET [Customer Engagement Technology] is to provide a useful interface for shoppers to get what they want and in doing so have a good time – right? Usually this is achieved through the use of a customer’s eyes, fingertips, gestures or voice. Think video walls, self-serve kiosks, tablets, digital signage, holograms, projections, gesture controlled retail gamification, RFID identification, QR code/NFC couponing etc… In my pursuit of the ultimate shopping experience through CET, I have travelled the world, seeing the wild and the downright stupid put into practice.

People and technology are not always compatible

I have become fascinated with observing shoppers as they try to go about their business often hindered by CET. I am not suggesting that I lurk in the aisles like a shifty shoplifter – though this is a sure-fire way of testing the standard of CCTV technology in branch – more so I take every opportunity to observe the conjunction of people and technology as I do my own shopping. I’m kind of like a secret shopper without a company credit card to support my clandestine observational missions – incidentally I am available for hire should your company wish to employ the services of a CET analyst. Just let me loose on your market with a credit card and a digital notepad and see what I come back with…

Weapons of mass engagement

Sometimes I will observe a great piece of retail theatre – a sheer delight to watch and to participate in. There are other times when the ‘experience’ so utterly fails to engage the customer that one feels like praying for peak oil and the subsequent global black-out to hurry up and stop this terrible retail technology nexus in its tracks. If it is not poorly planned click and collect services, or sub-standard digital signage, it is armies of in-store assistants brandishing iPads like weapons of mass engagement. As a busy shopper I find BYOD in store acts like garlic on them…

Knowing what ‘good’ looks like

In spite of the aforementioned diatribe I should go on record as saying that I am a fan-boy of all forms of CET. I go looking for the stuff – my friends and family report back with something new they have seen. Its like trainspotting but with LEDs and sensors replacing the smoke and whistles – I make notes whilst out and about on a day off. Why? Because CET matters – what happens in store is a reflection of the whole industry – you make one another look great/bad. In CET terms ‘good’ should be aesthetically designed, offering a compelling reason to be used and ought to deliver a satisfactory customer experience. If it does not tick all of these boxes then it should be trialled and shelved – excuse the pun – with a label on the box saying ‘not good’.

Retail innovation is a learning process

And right here is my own dichotomy – on the one hand I cannot abide a lousy customer experience using an ill-conceived notion of technological connectivity. Yet as a futurist in tech innovation I feel I should embrace rapid prototyping, live beta trials and the occasional subsequent failure. The good news is I do willingly accept my role as a CET guinea pig. My only proviso is that should the CET project fail to deliver, it should do so fast and moves forward with a hefty lessons learned log into the next phase. ‘Test fast, fail fast & adjust fast’ – Tom Peters.

The shock and awe in CET Strategy

For many companies that have invested heavily, CET projects are treated like an all or nothing commercial strategy. Like a digital end game – I can see the red, ‘go nuclear’ button flashing on their blessed corporate iPads as I write this. ‘Gotta light the whole goddam store up with enough LED to give everyone a tan’. Their mistake is that there is often nothing in the plan for it to evolve. It’s as if their plan was designed, like a fly trapped in amber, for those screens and GUI’s to be preserved for eternity in their locale, never degrading, never transforming and, worst of all never being used. Yet consumerism is a by-product of capitalism and moves quickly and absolutely. Consumerism is also but one element of the retail consciousness, experiencing itself subjectively through campaigns and promotions. Its very nature is transient – a temporary material construct and should be able to transmogrify in perpetuity as a reflection of the zeitgeist. Sadly not all companies have a budget for that – it was all used up on a 6 metre x 12 metre touch enabled video wall that requires a step ladder to make best use of. That was one real example of where Cap-Ex flew out of the door as CET came in the window.


The reality is customers – people like you and I – vote with our senses when confronted by new things. Sure we will try them out but ultimately we are governed by our own attitudes toward them. This perception is based on usefulness of the CET and the ease of its use. If it looks hard and/or doesn’t deliver on the promise – of speed, quality, variety, fun – we vote with our feet and leg it. Too many businesses focus only on what it looks like as opposed to what it actually delivers. The bitterness of poor CET lingers longer after the sweetness of the products in store have been forgotten. A good CET strategy should carry the experience out of the store and into the customer’s social sphere. By virtue of the experience being evangelised by the user they take your brand into an intimate realm of personal endorsement and recommendation – the holy grail of marketing no less. We like to talk about good experiences, but we also like a good whinge! You have to get it right – or run the risk of your reputation being less than one step ahead of its own disastrous PR debris!

3 Golden Rules of CET strategy

I would highly recommend any company embarking on a CET project to remember the three golden rules of engagement strategy:

  • If you promise to deliver an engaging experience then come good on that promise – if it’s about efficiency it better be quicker, if it’s about innovation then it better be shiny and new, if it’s about fun then please delight me.
  • Answer the questions by filling in these gaps before you start:
    1. Who are we engaging with? Our target user group/profile is………?
    2. What should the eventual outcome be of CET usage? The customer/company takeaway is …….?
    3. When should this engagement process occur? It features in the ………. stage of the buyer decision process.
    4. Where is the best place in store to make this happen? To maximise the chance of positive engagement it should be situated………
    5. Why is this CET in use at all? Our reason for utilising this is because it will……..
    6. How can we develop this experience over time? Our phase two and three plans include……
  • Do your competitive analysis – both vertically and horizontally. Observe cross-over strategies of other complimentary businesses – people that that buy X should buy our product – how are these purveyors using CET?
  • If you are able to follow these steps then the user experience of your CET project will be successful. Your place in the Halls of CET greatness will be assured for that moment – but remember it needs to keep being refreshed. Once it is installed please invite me along to try it out – me and my family love tech. There is a symbiotic relationship between fun and shopping. As a consumer I would like to see both back in the high street.

    Next Post:

    Bleeding Edge Technology – When Tinkering Goes Bad. By virtue of its proximity to the tech event horizon, consumer driven, innovative gadgets are prone to being stretched beyond reasonable and practicable use. Graeme Laws will pose searching questions; Are you prepared to dabble in the grey world of Beta Engagement Technologies? From Google Glass to MYO armbands via transparent touch screens and indoor ‘delivery’ quad copters– there are plenty of toys to play with but how ‘Enterprise’ are they? Do we really want to take it from the lab or livingroom straight into the workplace?


Mixed discipline innovation

A team built with mixed skills and know-how will always be stronger than a group-think silo. Business insight is a combination of looking at an opportunity through multiple lenses and forming a view of what these multiple observations mean. Successful businesses look, listen and learn from as many sources as possible. This means an extended network is highly desirable. The easiest way to extend the network is bring in different people for divergent thinking on shared business problems. Right brainer, left brainer, activist, theorist – they all create balance and augment team and the enterprise in which they work.

Follow this link to an article on the subject by Bill Gross, CEO of Idealab

Idea generation for innovation

There are many techniques for developing new ideas. For some businesses like 3M, IDEO and Frog, these techniques are ingrained into the very DNA of the company culture and structure. But what about the business that knows it needs to change, how do they do it? The World is filled with great companies, endowed with great technical experience in their respective fields. Yet despite their successes they are without the technique to realise their future aspirations? May great ideas wither on the vine through an inability to harvest them efficiently.

Often an organisation is not really aware of the true creative capability of its workforce. This is particularly the case for large organisations with physically demanding tasks – such as a manufacturing plant for automotive. In this type of environment you have highly dexterous workforce engaged in a semi autonomous process. Whilst being engaged fully in the repetitive tasks it is possible for the highly motivated employee to have exceptional moments of divergent thinking.  It is as if the body in autopilot enables the operative to hand over a portion of their creative mind to musings on any number of technical or social scenarios. So how can a business capitalise on this untapped human resource?

Is idea creation best encouraged through brainstorming, idea competitions, idea factories, open sourcing?

Here are some methods of generating good ideas

Innovation intro

Innovation is considered by many to be a crucible for mixing exotic ideas with the rationality of commercialisation.

Is innovation the by-product of strategic initiatives at a corporate level – developed by wailing and gnashing of corporate teeth in the boardroom?

Are innovators the creative gurus of the 21st century knowledge economy – having zen moments whilst riding trick scooters at a South Bank skate park?

Businesses in the current age are faced with different challenges to their forbearer. Past success does not breed future capabilities. Old markets are being displaced by new geographical and technological markets.

Human capital is forced to confront these changes in real-time, technology redundancy is the greatest threat to western civilisation since the industrial revolution. Jobs are lost and consumers are effectively removed from the value chain in one fell swoop – no job, no money, no disposable income. The rise of the machines that ‘take our jobs’ ultimately lead to an absence of customers – the machines wont be buying a mobile phone any day soon.

Too often a business will become absorbed in a moment of success without realising that we do not live in a static universe – there is always change. Therefore to be looking, learning, adapting and enhancing your commercial offering is a way to ensure that you remain relevant. Furthermore it allows a business time to adapt their business model to accommodate change and what comes with that is time for the workforce to adapt their working styles to move with these changes.

I once had a meeting with several highly positioned retail executives and we spent some time discussing his topic. They asked me, if I were in their position where dwindling footfall in store is reducing overall consumer spending – what would I suggest they do? My answer was swift and tongue in cheek – Start selling lubricant, robots need lubricant!

Read more here

The art and creativity in Self-service

Self-service technology is often thought of as just a self check out machine in a supermarket. It is viewed as a soul-less solution that separates the customer from human contact. Furthermore it is seen as a technology that destroys jobs and consumes valuable space in a business. Thankfully this impression is changing as more people embrace the technology and experience first hand the benefits that it can bring. I have spent several years studying the form and functionality of the state of the art kiosk. My role at Box Technologies Ltd has enabled me to challenge the styles and preferences of both suppliers and customers. This body of research is now paying dividends. We have a great range of products, a healthy innovation pipeline and some extremely capable partners. The next decade will see continual growth in this technology sector. I hope to guide, influence and participate with all members of the self-service community, in delivering aesthetically designed useful pieces of engagement technology. I wish to promote Europe as the center of this global growth engine. I am looking forward to playing my part in this lucrative value chain.



The Publishing Industry is Dead: True or False

Printed pages have been with us since around 1450 A.D. After 561 years, you might think that people would be slow to accept innovation. However, the sale of an estimated 4 million Amazon Kindle e-readers has put paid to any such illusions.

Barely into Q2, and 2011 has already been a rough year for traditional book retailers. In February, Borders filed for bankruptcy, saying that it would close about a third of its stores. And despite its major competitor being on the rocks, Barnes & Noble stock continues to drop.

Long Live Publishing –and Self Publishing

While retailers struggle and fold, there might yet be new opportunities for publishers and authors alike. A publishing phoenix may still rise from the ashes.

It was in July 2010 that ebooks started outselling hardcovers on Amazon. So it’s hardly surprising that publishing houses are moving to embrace the ebook more wholeheartedly.

The economics of ebook publishing have already attracted new market entrants: publishers that specialize in ebooks for eReaders, tablets, and smart phones.

These economics have not only inspired publishing houses to rethink their business model and new competition to take them on. It’s also created a new, independent breed of author.

Freeing up the sales force for selling

Most sales reps spend less than half of their time actually selling. Here’s how companies can reshape sales operations to allow them to focus on their real job.

JULY 2011 • Olivia Nottebohm, Tom Stephenson, and Jennifer Wickland

Source: Marketing & Sales Practice

Here’s a situation that may sound familiar. “Inside” sales reps1 at a global manufacturer spent 75 percent of their time away from the phones—pushing through stalled deals, scurrying for data to answer questions from customers, and cobbling together one-off proposals for even the simplest requests. Highly paid field reps spent 45 percent of their time on internal sales support and tracking the progress of deals. Developing a standard proposal required meetings with as many as seven people, and field reps had to spend up to three weeks of constant effort to get a special price approved. This model of inefficiency culminated when the company fumbled a new-product launch because it failed to meet the deadline for proposals to secure initial orders.

That was the wake-up call the company needed. For two years, it worked to streamline its global sales operation by creating “sales factories” comprising specialized sales support staff with clear responsibilities and deal coordinators to shepherd sales through the system on behalf of reps. Internal processes were standardized and simplified, and a comprehensive performance-management system was implemented. While not all companies can successfully achieve these difficult and time-consuming transformations, the rewards are worthwhile for those that rise to the challenge. When the program was rolled out country by country, in some cases the impact was felt in just four months: reps gained an average of 15 percent more time for selling, conversions of proposals to sales rose by 5 percent, and the cycle time for internal sales processes shrank by 20 percent.

Read more here…